Joseph Ben-David passed

Joseph Ben-David

It is with great sadness we announce the passing of our member Rev. Joseph Ben-David on October 7, 2020 at the age 100. His spirituality, sense of humor and appreciation of life will be missed.

Joseph Ben-David was born in Prague in 1920. He lived with his parents and his younger brother in the center of the Czechoslovak capital. His father owned a printing ink factory and, after leaving high school, he joined him at work and learned his trade. As a teenager, Joseph became aware of the Unitarian Church in Prague and became a speaker and activist for social causes. He was also a youth leader for the Zionist Youth Movement. Joseph’s father died shortly after the Nazis occupied Prague in 1939 and, in the fall of that year, Joseph left for Palestine. His mother intended to follow but was deported to a concentration camp where she died.

Joseph arrived in Palestine in 1940 and settled in Tel Aviv. He established a lab where he produced printing media – ink, cement, glue and printing rollers. As a conscientious objector during the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, Joseph worked as a hygiene officer and later became a sanitary officer in Jerusalem. He also continued his activist efforts in social justice.

Joseph moved to New York City in 1954 and soon became involved in the American Humanist Association in New York, first as a speaker and later as chapter president.

Over the course of a long career he attracted large numbers of followers with his teachings on humanist psychology, philosophy and spiritual identity. A highly motivated public speaker and educator, he helped his followers interact on a foundation of reason, mutual understanding and self-actualization.

In 1973, he founded the independent Church of Humanism and its integral Humanist Foundation in the Humanist spirit of Unitarian minister Dr. Norbert ?apek. As Senior Minister of the Church, and having taken a vow of poverty, he delivered countless lectures based on the writings of the most enlightened voices of our time, including Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Hannah Arendt, Fritz Perls and Germaine Greer.

The Church of Humanism elected the playwright and civil rights freedom activist Václav Havel as recipient of the Church’s Humanist of the Year 1979 award during Havel’s imprisonment under the Communist regime. Havel later became president of the Czech Republic and met Ben-David in New York City.

Ben-David is survived by his wife of 50 years, Alyson Tufts Ben-David, his son Daniel Ben-David, and five grandchildren.

Video at National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, IA

Ruzena Bunza died (2016-2020)

Ruzena Bunza, a long-time member of the Czechoslovak Society of Art and Sciences, passed away peacefully in her home on June 23, 2020, just one month shy of her 104th birthday.

Ruzena Bunza, Photo  Jiri Dolezel, 2018

Photo by Jiri Dolezel

Ruzena Bunza was born in Rousinov, Czech Republic, near Brno. She was the youngest of four children of Ludmila and Alois Kadlcik, the region’s Postmaster. She graduated from the Commerce Academy and then worked as a legal secretary in a law firm where she met her future husband, Dr. Bohumir Bunza. They married in 1940 and started their life together in Bojkovice, where her husband had a position as a District Judge. In 1946, Dr. Bunza was elected to the Czech Parliament. He was in charge of an investigation of crimes committed by members of the Communist party against German citizens during their relocation from Czechoslovakia at the end of WWII. His involvement in this investigation made him a target of the Communist party and necessitated his escaping Czechoslovakia after the Communist takeover in 1948.

Ruzena was unable to leave with him and she stayed behind in Bojkovice with her two young children, Peter and Helen. They lived there until 1956, when the family relocated to Brno in the hope of escaping constant surveillance and persecution. They stayed in Brno until their own escape to Italy in 1967. Ruzena—together with her daughter, Helen, and her fiancé, Mojmir—were successful in escaping the country. Her son, Peter, was caught at the border, he was imprisoned for 7 months until the Prague Spring, when he was released and was able to leave the country as well.

Ruzena reunited with her husband in Italy, and they lived in Rome for the next 10 years while he worked in the Center of the World Christian Studies. They organized various Czech church activities and helped to establish the Czech Pilgrimage House in Dolomites. They were also very involved in helping many Czech and Slovak refugees in Italian refugee camps.

In 1977, Ruzena and Bohumir retired and moved to New York City to be closer to their children and their families. They immediately became very involved in the Czech community and especially in the New York chapter of the SVU, where Ruzena was membership secretary and Dr. Bunza was Treasurer. Together they organized the Society’s cultural programs and Ruzena was a distributor of the Zpravy SVU magazine and other publications. For her outstanding service, she received the Achievement Award in 2010. Ruzena was a member of the Czech choir, Velehrad, for many years. She was also an avid traveler and enjoyed baking and gardening.

In 2018 in a video interview for Czech television, she described her recollections of meeting the first Czech president, T.G. Masaryk, in her hometown of Rousinov when she was a schoolgirl. That same year, Jiri Dolezel, photographer and founder of the Memory Traces project, interviewed her for his research on Czech waves of emigration to the United States. Her story became a part of his 2019 exhibition “Memory Traces—Exile/Emigration to the USA” on view at the Narodni Budova in New York City.

Ruzena was predeceased by her husband, Bohumir, in 1990, and her son, Peter, in 2018. She is survived by her daughter, Helen; her daughter-in-law, Greta; and her three grandchildren, Katrin, Carole and Mark, as well as her three great-grandchildren, Julia, Erik and Martine. A memorial service will be announced in the coming months.

Sad news

It is with great sadness that we learned that our former longtime president Professor Milan Fryscak, Ph.D., and Professor at NYU has passed due to Covid 19 complications. Our deepest sympathy goes to his wife Eva and their two sons. We will miss his smile and great sense of humor.

Read more in SVU’s REMEMBERING.